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Some Jarring Encounters in Jaffa

The highlight, er, well experience of the day that will dominate most of today’s blogfest is our tour this afternoon to see the old city of Jaffa – one of the few cities in Israel with a mixed Arab and Jewish population. We left the Bedouin tent early this morning to collect our gear and head towards Neve Shalom, this evening’s accommodation. We shared a ride with the Arab group with whom we had shared the first few days of our time here. Amidst all of the complexity and fullness of our initial encounters, we left on a great note with them … and danced to those notes, too. As our bus ride together came to an end the bus ride became a little dance fest – first on the bus and then trailing off the bus as we arrived. It was a fun and positive note on which to leave this group until we see them later this week in the Galilee. With this spirit we headed to Jaffa …

The tour in Jaffa seemed for me to capture some of the challenges for so many in trying to get our heads and hearts around the real issues and honoring the stories of all sides of this ‘matzav’ – ‘situation.’ Our guide was an Arab historian who – beyond his apparent lack of tour guiding skills – decided that instead of presenting us with information and knowledge of the city and its history and idiosyncrasies – he needed to share his political views with us on an overzealous array of topics from globalization, gentrification and eventually occupation.


In dialogue it is appropriate and expected to hear difficult things from one’s counterpart, to listen to their story, even when their perspective does not fit one’s own understanding of truth. In this setting, when one is looking toward learning, it was pure propaganda … and it was delivered without respect, with disdain and impatience. We were all tired and hot as the tour occurred in the late afternoon and perhaps that added to our lack of patience and focus. Still, listening to this presentation and trying to process it captured some of the challenges for me personally in seeing Israel in this way. Those of you, who know me, know that I do not have any issue with holding Israel to a high standard of behavior and action toward the Palestinians. To listen to this man, to hear his tone … put me on the defensive. I had to ask myself … why am I hearing him in this manner? Do I actually hear the tone of poison in his voice each time that he says the word ‘Zionist’? Or am I merely projecting my anxiety about hearing a how an Arab person feels about a Jewish person treated him and his family? My companions informed me that in this case it was indeed the former – he was over the top, crossing the line, simply inappropriate. It still leaves the question of how to be honest, self-aware when trying to truly hear the story of someone whose story so dissonates with my own. This is the difficulty of getting to the actual solutions of this situation – getting past needing our stories or their stories to feel good, right and fit towards making new stories – most probably unimagined by either side .


(If you believe in God then you might say the next part is from she/he/it, if not it was a nice counterpoint to the experience of this tour.) Our bus driver joined us for the tour… he is Arab and his English is not so great … so he was not so in tune with the text of the tour. Yet, throughout the tour he was talking and enjoying with our group and visiting with other tours and tourists along the way … even at the end speaking in Hebrew with a group of orthodox Jews who were having their own tour in Jaffa (with a better guide I am sure!). As we are finally wrapping up I watch him finish a spirited conversation with his these Jews and complement him on making some new friends. In his joyous and affable manner – that have become a staple of our trip – he says to me in Hebrew: “I see people and I see friends. Life is good to meet, to talk, to eat … why should he be afraid or I be afraid … this is life, to meet, to talk, to eat together. ” Wherever he came from and however that particular encounter with him found me … I am grateful for it.

Tonight my bed beckons – no stars to sleep under this evening 🙁 — tomorrow brings us to Jerusalem and all that it has to offer. We are all excited to experience it togther.

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